Robert Wilson has been watching SEC football since his first SEC game on his 11th birthday when Archie Manning and Ole Miss upset Alabama and Coach Bear Bryant 10-8 at Mississippi Memorial Stadium in Jackson in 1968. He was hooked and still loves it. He will be doing an SEC predictions column each week and also talking about players and coaches with Mississippi connections in the SEC. Enjoy.
By Robert Wilson
Mississippi State at LSU (2:30 PM CBS)
Mike Leach’s resume is impressive. The first-year Mississippi State coach is known as one of the top offensive minds in the college game. He has led the country in passing in nearly half of the 21 years he has been a Division I head coach, however, this is his first game as a head coach in the SEC, known for its defense. Leach’s SEC baptism will be against defending national champion LSU and at their home, Tiger Stadium, against the Tigers defense, with tons of speedy athletes. Kickoff is 2:30 p.m. on CBS.
Leach has been to Tiger Stadium before in an SEC game. He was an assistant at Kentucky in 1998 when the Wildcats visited Tiger Stadium. One of the things he remembers about it are Tiger fans rocking their bus as they entered the stadium area. This time it might be the Tiger secondary, led by cornerback Derek Stingley, rocking his receivers and the Tiger line and linebackers rocking quarterback KJ Costello, who will be making his start since transferring from Stanford. MSU freshman quarterback Will Rogers, the Priority One Bank/Mississippi Scoreboard Metro Jackson Football Player of the Year from Brandon, will probably see some playing time.
Expect Leach’s offense to get into the end zone some, but not enough to get out of Tiger Stadium with a win.
LSU’s starting quarterback, Mississippi native Myles Brennan, will be making his first collegiate start, replacing Joe Burrow, who led LSU to the national championship and was the No. 1 pick in the NFL draft. Brennan passed for more passing yards than any high school player in Mississippi history for St. Stanislaus. Doing it against the Bulldogs will be more difficult. Even losing Madison-Ridgeland Academy graduate Saahdiq Charles and Canton High alumnus Damien Davis to the NFL from its offensive line, Brennan should get plenty of protection from his teammates.
Leach’s first Tiger Stadium experience ended with a win for him and his Wildcats. This one won’t end as well for his Bulldogs.
LSU 35, Mississippi State 21.
Florida at Ole Miss (11 a.m., ESPN)
Florida coach Dan Mullen returns to Oxford and would like nothing better than to beat the team he called TSUN (The School Up North) when he was coaching at Mississippi State. His No. 5 ranked Gators are being talked about as a possible SEC champion and College Football Playoff team.
But not so fast. Florida might find trouble going up against first-year coach Lane Kiffin and his unpredictable offense. The Lane Train has plenty of weapons, especially on offense with two fast playmakers — quarterback John Rhys Plumlee, who might play running back, receiver or whoknows what else, and running back Jerrion Ealy. Kiffin hasn’t said who will start but both Plumlee and Matt Corral will probably both get some time at QB.
Mullen has an outstanding quarterback in Kyle Trask and has an offense that can roll up a lot of points, especially against a Rebel defense, which gave up more yards than any team in the SEC last season.
As a reminder, the Rebels have history of pulling upsets against the Gators. Everyone remembers 2008 when Ole Miss upset No. 4 Florida 31-30 and afterwards Tim Tebowgave his famous speech. The Gators went on to win the national championship. The offensive coordinator that year was Mullen, who left for Mississippi State after that season.
Kiffin might even take the lead at some point in the first half, but the Gators are too talented to lose this one. Ole Miss will be decked out in new powder blue uniforms and the end zone will have Ole Miss in powder blue. The visiting team in orange and blue will find that end zone more than the home team in powder blue.
Florida 35, Ole Miss 24.
Alabama at Missouri (6 p.m., ESPN)
The player who has received much of the preseason praise by Alabama coach Nick Saban has been preseason All-American cornerback Patrick Surtain II, the leader of the Crimson Tide secondary. Surtain, who was named one of the top four cornerbacks in the country by Pro Football Focus, is a potential Top 10 NFL Draft pick. Surtain, who wears No. 2, should receive a lot of attention by the Missouri offense and will cause a lot of problems regardless what quarterback first-year Missouri coach Elian Drinkwitz plays and tries to challenge him.
Many Mississippi football fans will remember Surtain’sfather, Patrick Surtain, who was an All-American cornerback and Conference USA Player of the Year in 1997 for Southern Miss. He led the Golden Eagles to a 9-3 record, a 41-17 victory over Pittsburgh in the Liberty Bowl, and a No. 19 final AP ranking, the first time in school history Southern Miss had received a final Top 25 final AP ranking. Surtain was a second round draft pick by the Miami Dolphins and played 11 seasons in the NFL for the Dolphins and Chiefs and made the Pro Bowl three times. He is recognized as one of the best defensive players in Southern Miss history. Surtain now coaches at American Heritage High School in Plantation, Fla., and coached his son.
The younger Surtain will help lead the Crimson Tide to an easy victory in their season opener as they try to win the SEC and reach the College Football Playoff. Saban is 13-0 in season openers and Alabama hasn’t lost an opener since 2001.
Alabama 42, Missouri 7.
Georgia at Arkansas (3 p.m., SEC Network)
Nine days after Matt Luke was fired as Ole Miss’ head coach on Dec. 1 after the one-point loss in the Egg Bowl, the Gulfport native and Ole Miss alumnus was hired by Kirby Smart as his associate head coach and offensive line coach. It didn’t take long for Georgia fans to find out about Luke’s expertise. Missing three offensive linemen and facing one of the best defensive lines in the Big 12, Luke’s unit held their own and helped Georgia to a 26-14 victory over Baylor in the Sugar Bowl. Now, Luke and the Bulldogs open up the season against the Arkansas and new head coach Sam Pittman, who Luke replaced at Georgia.
Luke was Ole Miss co-offensive coordinator from 2012-2016 under Hugh Freeze as the Rebels rose to national prominence and made headlines by beating Alabama in back-to-back years. Luke was named interim coach for the 2017 season and named head coach for the 2018 season. Luke kept the program afloat during NCAA probation where the Rebels had scholarship restrictions and recruiting restrictions, finishing 6-6 in 2017 and 5-7 in 2018. But after the one-point loss in the Egg Bowl and a 4-8 finish, Ole Miss athletic director Keith Carter decided to go a different direction.
Luke’s new role fits him well and he should help the Bulldogs roll over the Razorbacks, who have lost 19 consecutive SEC games dating back to when they rallied from a 31-7 deficit to beat Luke and Ole Miss 38-37 with a field goal with 4 seconds to play in 2017. The current streak is the sixth longest in SEC history. Mississippi State is fifth with 21 losses from 1965-70.
Georgia 42, Arkansas 14.
Tennessee at South Carolina (6:30 p.m. SEC Network)
Mississippi native Will Friend could play a big part in helping the Vols start off the season with a win over the Gamecocks. Friend, a 1992 Neshoba Central Parade High School All-American and former All-SEC guard at Alabama, is in his second season as offensive line coach at Tennessee. Friend’s offensive line was considered as the Vols’ most improved unit last season and is expected to do well this season. Led by All-SEC guard Trey Smith, keep an eye on Friend’s O-line to open up holes for the Tennessee running backs and protect quarterback Jarrett Guarantano, who doesn’t get much pub around the SEC, but has the lowest interception percentage in school history, even better than Peyton Manning.
Also, watch for No. 10, freshman Jimmy Holiday from Madison Central, to get into the game at some point at wide receiver. Holiday was moved from quarterback to receiver about a month ago. Tennessee coach Jeremy Pruitt said Holiday wanted to move so he could play since the quarterback position was pretty full.
Tennessee 24, South Carolina 23.
Kentucky at Auburn (11 a.m., SEC Network)
For the second straight season, another former Ole Miss assistant coach has landed at Auburn. Last year, Wesley McGriff, known as “Crime Dawg,” joined the Tigers’ staff as a defensive back coach after he was let go after two years as defensive coordinator at Ole Miss. This year, Jack Bicknell, Jr., has joined Auburn’s staff as offensive line coach after three years as offensive line coach at Ole Miss. But when Matt Luke was dismissed, Bicknell had to find another job. Both McGriff and Bicknell should have good units for head coach Gus Malzahn, who starts his seventh season at Auburn. Malzahn is one of three coaches in history to win an SEC football title in his season as head coach. He did it in 2013. The other two? Long time Mississippi collegiate football fans will be very familiar with one of them. Johnny Vaught won it in his first season at Ole Miss in 1957 and Bernie Moore at LSU in 1935.
Malzahn, Bicknell and McGriff should be pleased with what they see Saturday.
Auburn 31, Kentucky 14.
Vanderbilt at Texas A&M (6:30 p.m., SEC Network)
McKinnley Jackson, the No. 1 rated recruit in Mississippi last season, is expected to make his collegiate debut tomorrow for Texas A&M. The 6-foot-2, 335-pound defensive tackle from George County has the potential to be one of the best defensive linemen ever to come out of Mississippi. Jackson, rated as the No. 8 defensive tackle in the country, had 80 tackles, 34 tackles for loss, and 10 sacks as a senior at George County. George County coach Matt Caldwell said Jackson is running with the second team defense right now and will likely play Saturday. Jackson picked Texas A&M over Alabama, Auburn and LSU. He is the only Mississippian on the Aggies roster. Caldwell said Texas A&M coach Jimbo Fisher started recruiting Jackson when Fisher was at Florida State. Jackson wore No. 99 at George County, but is wearing No. 35 for the Aggies. Caldwell said Jackson wanted to wear a new number, a sign of a fresh start in college.
Jackson and his Aggies should roll over the Commodores, who have two new coordinators, a new quarterback and a new running back.
Texas A&M 42, Vanderbilt 14.